Melnyk and NHL silent as Ottawa 2017 committee await consideration of TD Place. By: andrew savory

They may have to call this the waiting game.

The fate of a proposed outdoor hockey game in Ottawa next year to mark the 100th anniversary of the NHL still hinges on talks over the venue.

Despite a looming deadline, the group organizing Ottawa events for Canada’s 150th say they are confident that Senators owner Eugene Melnyk will be able to finalize a deal to use TD Place for an outdoor game in December 2017. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says TD Place is the only place to host the game.

The deadline to confirm the stadium as a location is mid-January, and that must be agreed upon by Melnyk, as well as Montreal Canadiens ownership in conjunction with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group.

With the sesquicentennial fast approaching, Watson said that he has spoken with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Melnyk to stress the outdoor game’s importance in honouring confederation and the NHL’s centennial anniversary on Dec. 19, 2017.

The outdoor classic would pay tribute to the inaugural NHL game played by Ottawa against the Canadiens 100 years earlier, and would join the Juno Awards and the Grey Cup as the final event targeted by Ottawa 2017 for sesquicentennial celebrations.

The time crunch to close a deal for the venue began on Nov. 4 when the Department of Canadian Heritage nixed the original plan to host the game on Parliament Hill, for security and logistical reasons.

“The highly complex environment regarding events on Parliament Hill, including the need for the uninterrupted operations of parliamentary business, public access, and security, a full-stadium NHL game was deemed not feasible and is no longer one of the options being considered,” Pierre-Olivier Herbert, press secretary for Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly, said in an email.

Bettman added to the speculation earlier this month by questioning whether Melnyk and the OSEG would be able to agree on Lansdowne as a new venue.

"So we're going to see if we want to play a game on Founders Day somewhere else, and by that I mean in a different city," Bettman told NHL.com. "We haven't made any decisions."

Watson said that despite Bettman’s comments, the OSEG is willing to let TD Place serve as the host for an outdoor game and he urged Melynk to consider Lansdowne Park as the only “legitimate alternative” for the game.

Fellow Ottawa 2017 board member councillor Mathieu Fleury is also an advocate of TD Place as a venue and voiced optimism regarding the progress made between Melnyk and the NHL.

Some have suggested LeBreton Flats as a possible alternative for the outdoor game, but Watson said the lack of public transit options, licensed establishments, washroom facilities, and overall cost of development makes the area unsuitable for the game.

Melnyk’s RendezVous LeBreton Group has been in negotiations involving the redevelopment of LeBreton since April after being granted a preferred bid by the National Capital Commission.

The bid is viewed as the first step in Melnyk’s five-year plan to redevelop the land as a new state of the art facility for the Senators. Until formal negotiations are complete, the area remains barren and scattered with construction vehicles.

Landing the outdoor game in Ottawa is seen as crucial for the Senators, who currently sit 24th in the league with an average nightly attendance of 15,389.

The game is also important to long-time Senators fans like Sofia Polimenakos.

Polimenakos now plays once a week in the Carleton Women's Adult Hockey League. She is "not confident that Melnyk and the Senators management will be able to solidify a location in Ottawa before the January deadline."

Polimenakos was introduced to hockey by her father, but developed a passion of her own by playing competitively for several years in the Ottawa Girls Hockey Association. Polimenakos remains an avid fan of the Senators, but believes that Bettman’s willingness to look beyond Ottawa for the outdoor game reflects the league’s focus on profit, not the experience of the fans.

“The NHL has taken away the excitement and uniqueness of the outdoor games because they have overdone the concept,” Polimenakos said.

Following the 2017 Grey Cup, TD Place will be equipped with an extra 12,000 seats for a total of 36,000, which is above the minimum bar of 30,000 that is generally required by the NHL when awarding a city an outdoor game. Outdoor games have been a strong source of revenue since their inception in 2003, and as noted by Watson, the certainty of a game in Ottawa would likely stimulate the sale of season tickets—a point that Melnyk is well-aware of.

TD Place plays host to the Ottawa Fury and the Ottawa Redblacks, and currently has the resources and facilities to satisfy the logistics of an NHL outdoor game.
“These outdoor games are assets of the National Hockey League so they will continue to serve as the lead in any effort to explore bringing an outdoor game to the nation’s capital,” said Ken Villazor, an advisor to Melnyk. “At this stage, we are not in a position to comment publicly on how the process may move forward but we remain in close contact with the league.”

Frank Brown, Group Vice President of Communications for the NHL Commissioner’s Office, said he had nothing to add either. “Nothing new to report at the moment,” Brown said in a text on Monday afternoon.

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